Figure the Future

Figure the Future
By Michael Newberry
Presented by The Atlas Society, 2008

Michael Newberry reflects on how the nude supports the best within us and shows that it has been present at the conception and implementation: of democracy; of systematic philosophy; and of art history.

0:17 Introduction by Robert Bidinotto

2:33 The Nude as the Personification of the Individual
The Status of Clothed Figures
Ramasus, Queen Elizabeth 1, Ingres, Millet, Whistler, Wyeth, Pearlstein, and Richter.

15:12 Individuality Expressed Through the Nude
Courbet, Durer, Bellini, Boucher, Manet, and Renoir.

23:26 The Best Within
First Artists to Sign Works
Polyclitus, Praxiteles, Humans as godlike.

27:39 Nude as Inspiration
Michelangelo, Galileo, Joseph Dauben, Capuletti.

30:05 The Nude Adjacent to Moving Humanity Forward: Interesting Cultural Developments — Bridging Ancient Greece to the Renaissance – Orbit of Individuals
Solon, Democracy, Aristophanes, Botticelli, Translation of Aristotle, Vasari (First Art Historian), Madame de Pompadour, Diderot, Manet’s Olympia, Hugo, Bizet, Copley, American Revolution, Mercy Otis Warren, Rossetti, Eakins, Walt Whitman, Emerson.

42:53 An Aside: Turning Leaves of Grass to Trash to Postmodern Art

44:18 Nazis and the Heroic Nude

45:43 Cultural Conflict — Sabotaging the State
The Last Judgment, Heroic Nudes Create Conflict with Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Religions.

47:50 Where We Are Today
Lucian Freud, Schipperheyn, Collins, and Feldman.

51:19 Q & A
Roman Copies, Nudes Convey Individuality of Traits, Erotic Elements, Postmodernists are Grumpy People, Heroic Nude Helped to Defeat the Nazis? Humanism vs Christianity reflected in Renaissance Art, Courageous Figurative Artists, Nudes as Dangerous to Status Quo Cultures, Obscenity, Michelangelo’s Popular Appeal, Propaganda, and Appropriation of Great Art.

Michael Newberry is Artist-in-Residence at The Atlas Society. He has exhibited in New York, Los Angeles, Athens, and Rome. In the Fall of 2017, he has a solo show at the White Cloud Gallery in Washington D.C. Follow him on Instagram at @artnewberry.

Drawing the Line between Pornography and Art

Porn and art generate two classic human responses: “Art is in the eye of the beholder” and “I know porn when I see it.”

Sometimes these responses overlap such as in reaction to erotic Egyptian drawings, Ancient Greek wine vases, 19th century etchings and literature, and in 20th century erotic photos, movies, and adult cartoons. In these cases, we observe art with erotic touches or eroticism with artistic touches. What is the difference between them? And can we find the spot that divides them?

erotic

Erotic and Satirical Papyrus. Papyrus, Der el-Medina, New Kingdom,
Dynasty XX (1186 – 1070 BCE). Turin Museum

screen_shot_2017-03-09_at_11-25-54_pm

Erotic scene on the rim of an Attic red-figure kylix, c. 510 BC.

screen_shot_2017-03-09_at_11-26-10_pm

Alfred Beardsley

Novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand is passionately adamant about where her boundaries are: “I want to state, for the record, my own view of what is called “’hard-core’” pornography. I regard it as unspeakably disgusting. I have not read any of the books or seen any of the current movies belonging to that category, and I do not intend ever to read or see them.”

John Stagliano, a porn producer and an Objectivist, said,: “My argument that pornography is art hinges on the value I put on sexual arousal. I submit that is as valid an emotional response as fear, hate, joy, or any other emotion. Those that don’t think pornography is art perhaps don’t value the sexual response and therefore dismiss porn as art. Still, if their response to it was immediate revulsion than that in itself proves that it is art.”

Rand saw explicit sex in movies and writing as porn. Stagliano implies that if it conveys emotion, it is art.These perspectives raise some questions: Is there a difference between sex in a book and a movie? What about non-art situations that raise heated emotions such as football games, and traffic jams?

In ancient Greek theater sex and murder took place off stage behind the skene, yet, in Greek comedies, male characters paraded exaggerated fake genitalia. Contemporary films portray murder, medical operations, and romance but none of these things happens for real; they are make-believe.

I casually discussed the question of art versus porn with two contemporary philosophers, David Kelley, Founder and Chief Intellectual Officer of TAS, and Stephen Hicks,  philosopher at Rockford University. Kelley commented, “Art and pornography raise thorny questions of definition — and even thornier questions of application, a real briar patch.”

Hicks added: “Art and porn are often put in different categories. But my view is that porn can be art — though in the range of kitsch, slapstick, or doggerel. That is, it’s of a kind with portrayals that take important human values but present them in crude, reductionist, or only semi-authentic ways. The issue is not ‘that’ sex is presented but ‘how’ it is.”

Georgina Leahy, singer, performer, model, and social media diva, who recently posed for two of my paintings in the Lovers Series, Arabesque, told me: “I never thought about it, art is art, porn is porn. I would never do porn, but I am always pushing the boundaries as an art muse.”

heter

Newberry, Arabesque – Heterosexual Couple with Georgie Leahy and Jase Grimm, oil on linen, 48 x 72 inches

So where is the boundary? The re-creation of sex in art requires the viewer to consciously or subjectively decide whether it is in good or bad taste, which also holds true for how we judge art in general. Giving us a clue, Rand defines art as a re-creation of reality, not as a literal transcription of it. It seems to me that the documentation of sex with real people through photos, movies, and on stage is the edge of the issue. Where would you draw the line?

Michael Newberry is Artist-in-Residence at The Atlas Society. He has exhibited in New York, Los Angeles, Athens, and Rome. Follow him on Instagram at @artnewberry.

Originally published with The Atlas Society.

Five Ayn Rand Questions for Michael Newberry

1) Tell us who you are and what you do.mndana2

I grew up on the beach and have been an artist ever since. I’m a figurative artist and my work explores light, love, and appreciation.

2) When did you first become familiar with Ayn Rand and her works?

When I was 19, my sister Janet—a world top-20 tennis player—told me she had a book I needed to read. That book was Atlas Shrugged.

3) What most interested you or hit you with an “Ah hah!” about Rand’s thinking?

I felt like Rand was giving me a pat on the back for being an artist. She has a very high regard for artists. It was like she was saying to me: “You’re doing a great job; keep going.”

4) How does her work inspire you today?

evesme SmallShe’s a great champion of creators. Rand’s work is a reminder that it’s the creation that matters the most, not superficial things. That is inspiring.

5) Rand wanted us to aspire to a world as it can be and should be. Can you tell us something optimistic you see in the world today or in the future?

What a great question! When I started my career, there were only a handful of figurative artists and they were not held in esteem. Now there are thousands upon thousands of exceptionally good artists who’ve paid their dues and really learned all the skillsets to create incredible figurative works. This is a huge, monumental development and I think Rand helped to set the stage for it.

Michael Newberry is Artist-in-Residence with The Atlas Society

Imagination

Imagination by Michael Newberry

Gallup, The Glistening Playground, 2009, 30 x 40 inches

Gallup, The Glistening Playground, 2009, 30 x 40 inches

Imagination is one of the cornerstones of art. Its use can be quietly subtle, or flagrantly push beyond the bizarre, or inspire generations of people to dream beyond their immediate circumstances and envision a world of possibilities.

One of the more quiet ways to use imagination is to recreate a real scene from life, yet include additional real objects to complete the idea of the work. Here, David Gallup created an idyllic setting of the Pacific Ocean replete with dolphins, birds, and surfers.

Dali, The Temptation of St. Anthony, 1946
Dali, The Temptation of St. Anthony, 1946

Here Dali uses some realistic elements and then distorts aspects of them to create an imagined world in which the unbelievable interacts with the real.

Gerome, Pygmalion and Galatea, 1881
Gerome, Pygmalion and Galatea, 1881

A variation on the unbelievable subject with the real comes from Gerome’s Pygmalion and Galatea. He conveys the legend of the sculpture of Galatea being so perfect that the stone turned into living flesh. Gerome does make the far-fetched scene look as if this is really happening.

Kandinsky, Improvisation 31 (Sea Battle), 1913
Kandinsky, Improvisation 31 (Sea Battle), 1913

Kandinsky’s Sea Battle conveys a rather freewheeling imagination – an ambiguous collection of forms and colors. Is that a strawberry or blood? A wing of a bird or a splash of water? A sail? A rock? It’s rather like looking for animals, and things in the shapes of clouds.

Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, 1830
Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, 1830

Delacroix in Liberty Leading the People uses a great deal of imagination in the subject, a half naked woman leading the masses in a revolt against a regime. Yet, the scene is meant to feel genuinely real–not like a surreal dream or like an impossible physical transformation.

By how an artist expresses their imagination, such as an escape, a playful distraction, as entertainment, or as a beacon, one can get some insights into the artist’s philosophy of life. And see something of your reflection as well.

I hope you enjoyed imagining art in a fresh way.

Michael Newberry
Santa Monica, March 2009

Michael Newberry is Artist-in-Residence at The Atlas Society. He has exhibited in New York, Los Angeles, Athens, and Rome. Follow him on Instagram at @artnewberry.

A New Medium for Postmodern Expression

A New Medium for Postmodern Expression by Michael Newberry

One of Postmodern Art’s important contributions to art history is cheek. But, far from being simple, there are several requirements that need to be met for a successful postmodern work.

The recent Marco Evaristti exhibition of canned meatballs cooked in his fat inspired me for a moment to see what idea I would come up with if I were a postmodernist. It would have to be a new medium of artistic expression and, at the same time, solve several PM requirements. The thing would have to be temporal; use the body of the artist in some fashion; reference an aspect of mass production; be an unorthodox medium; and use the natural force of one’s spontaneous genius (Kant).

As you might imagine, solving these demands is no easy feat.

Evaristti, Polpette al grasso di Marco.
Evaristti, Polpette al grasso di Marco. Marco Evaristti recently exhibited canned meatballs cooked in his liposuction fat.

Think about the variety of unorthodox mediums PM artists have used: straw (Kiefer); human excrement (Manzoni); elephant excrement (Ofili); urine (Serrano); blood (Quinn); islands, buildings, trees, etc. (Christo); rocks (Smithson); earth (Turrell); toenail clippings (Jones); sperm (Meste); Vaseline (Barney); mayonnaise, hot dogs, ketchup (McCarthy); and, of course, human fat (Evaristti, above).

My thoughts are going along the lines that it is absolutely imperative that a postmodernist use a medium that is unique to art, yet, is common to the human experience. The result should be temporal. Here today, gone tomorrow kind of stuff. Piffft, piffft. Something that bypasses argument and is distasteful–important PM qualities. That’s it! Flatulence. Canned flatulence. Yes. Flatulence d’ Artista. No, wait, don’t go off dismissing my idea too quickly. I think this has merits.

Newberry, 2007, Flatulence d' Artista, canned flatulence, 8x2 1/2x2 1/2"
Newberry, 2007, Flatulence d’ Artista, canned flatulence, 8×2 1/2×2 1/2″ $ priceless

Think about it:

1) It’s temporal, it instantly dissipates, there is no waiting around for weeks on end for a Christo project to come down or for Merde d’ Artista to decompose.

2) It uses the body as a stool … I mean a tool of artistic expression.

3) It’s a unique medium, and so minimalist that it’s totally transparent. There is no painting white on white. In fact, way beyond that it is almost nothing. Yet it leaves an unmistakable suggestion of our experiencing it, experiencing something subliminal, and, depending on the taste and the good sense of the audience, something sublime.

4) It’s mass produced, or at least it has the reference of being mass produced. And it is something that every human has experienced and produced, yet they have never thought of as art, until now.

5) It’s a natural force of one’s expressive genius. No explanation needed. After all, Kant has said that: “[Genius] cannot indicate scientifically how it brings about its product, but rather gives the rule as nature.” Genius in art is an explosive force with no thought about its coming about.

6) And this artwork is interactive. Say some boorish acquaintance comes along and fills your space with thoughts that smell suspiciously of romanticism. You get out your can of Flatulence d’ Artista, piffft, piffft. This lets him know exactly the position you take on that! Piffft, piffft, pifffffft.

So when it comes to Postmodern Art, be clever and use a little cheek.

Michael Newberry
New York, June 2007

Note: Sometimes it is helpful for an artist to contemplate the absurd. Michelangelo once wrote a viciously satirical reply to the Pope’s request for gigantic marble sculpture in which several massive blocks would be needed. Michelangelo outlined that if the subject were a smoking man, he could hollow out a smoke shop at the base, ground floor, charge rent, and even create a funnel and chimney, in which smoke could escape through the marble pipe. The concept of using marble as building blocks was the antithesis of Michelangelo’s prime concept that the figure is inside the block of marble waiting for the artist to release him/her.

Michelangelo wasn’t simply ranting, he was examining the aesthetic issues of the concept of using blocks to create a sculpture, and the absurd directions that it could lead.

Likewise, with my satire above, I am seriously looking at possible PM pathways, and drawing the conclusion that postmodernism is a crippling aesthetic.

MN